In July, I had a dream that I went to a book talk at some generic chain bookstore. E.B. White was there to talk about Charlotte’s Web. It was a small audience—maybe twelve people. I had the book with me, and lots of questions (details lost, when I woke up). In the dream I asked my number of questions, and he sat, kind and patient, as I unwound the things I wanted to know. At some point, he asked the audience whether they had a favorite part of the book. I said that my favorite parts could be traced to the parts where, as we listen to him reading the book, I recite lines along with him. (“What are you gonna do with it?” Templeton asks, about the rotten goose egg, and so on.) I mentioned to the audience that I had first found the audio book read by someone else, but discovered Mr. White had recorded it, and that it’s easily the best audio book I’ve ever heard. The author reads and you can hear so much more about his wondrous story from his intonation, from the lilting good humor in his voice, from his accent even. Listening, the textures of the place come alive. There is the benevolent curmudgeon in his reading, too, in his voice, which complicates the earnest story, and from the page, the words take wing. (In waking life, I know that not every writer is the best reader of her own work. In the case of White reading Charlotte’s Web, the reading performance elevates the already flawless novel to a new level, makes of the masterpiece something altogether new.)
I was somewhat shocked, in the dream, that Mr. White was still alive. And shocked that there weren’t hundreds of people in the audience. (Even E.B. White has trouble filling the room for a literary event?) He was gracious and warm. I think I asked him what he though about the book. I think he said he liked it. I think he said he liked the place of it, the world of it. He liked that it’s a humble canvas to explore big ideas like life and death and justice and friendship.
I was beginning to wake up by then, with such gladness at having been there.